Snow joke: Icelandic glacier makes presidential bid

Snow joke: Icelandic glacier makes presidential bid

The campaign to put Snæfellsjökull on the ballot, though ultimately unsuccessful, has boosted awareness of environmental stewardship

Iceland might just have the perfect solution for cooling off heated political debate: activists there have been bidding to secure a seat of power for one of its most famous glaciers by making it president.

Snæfellsjökull is a glacier-capped volcano in western Iceland. It’s thought to be around 700,000 years old, but campaigners say that at the current rate of melting it could vanish altogether within the next half a century.

Aiming to position the climate crisis centre stage in Iceland’s presidential election on 1 June, they set out to have Snæfellsjökull’s glacier included on the ballot. Although they ultimately failed to garner sufficient signatures in support of the nomination, activists behind the candidacy bid say it’s just the beginning.

“It’s definitely something we’re serious about, it’s not just a stunt,” campaign member Cody Skahan told Positive News. “We have thought carefully about how the glacier might fulfil its presidential duties.

“This first campaign was just a matter of gaining momentum, seeing who’s interested, and getting people used to the idea. In the next elections, we’ll have a lot more traction, we’ll have a lot more momentum.”

On paper, Snæfellsjökull ticks all the boxes: an Icelandic president must be at least 35 years old with no criminal record. Moreover, the glacier has been a beacon of stability and perseverance in the face of challenge and hardship for millennia.

On paper, Snæfellsjökull ticks all the boxes: an Icelandic president must be at least 35 years old with no criminal record

The idea to make it president came to artist and campaign manager Angela Rawlings (pictured below) over a decade ago. Its origins lie in the global Rights of Nature movement, which aims to give rivers, oceans and mountains the same legal rights as humans.

The campaign collective planned to establish a council of experts to give voice to Snæfellsjökull in the event it became president, with climate scientists, artists and glaciologists representing its different interests.

“For example, it might use its presidential veto if there was some sort of bill or law proposal that would contribute to significantly increasing carbon emissions or otherwise undermine the ecosystem in the region,” explained Skahan.

Angela Rawlings changed her middle name to that of the glacier’s so it could appear on the nomination list. Image: Snæfellsjökul fyrir forseta

Reaction to the nomination was mixed, with support split broadly along generational lines. Younger people were generally more in favour, while older generations cold-shouldered the idea.

“Many Icelandic people are all for it,” explained Daniela Amado, another member of the campaign collective. “Others, especially older people, consider it more of a joke.” They secured 300 of the 1,500 signatures needed to make the ballot, meaning Snæfellsjökull will have to wait four years for another pop at the hot seat.

In the meantime, activists are considering the glacier’s role in the next parliamentary election.“This has been a playful, joyous and creative campaign where there’s humour involved,” added Skahan. “But we’re still serious about the content and about the goals we want to achieve.”

Main image: Snæfellsjökul in western Iceland, photographed by Thomas Richards/iStock

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